Baldwin Street, Dunedin, New Zealand: The World's Steepest Street
Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand is recognized in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s steepest street. Other cities with steep streets dispute this claim, saying the 1:29 angle with a 35 degree gradient is incorrect. Dunedin people don’t mind. They are somewhat surprised at the fuss that is made of their Baldwin Street since it was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the steepest street in 1985.
Dunedin is a hilly city. In fact, Baldwin Street is only one of seven city streets fondly known as one of Dunedin’s Steep 7. Close to the city centre and only 350 metres long, Baldwin Street is an accepted part of city life in Dunedin. The city was settled in the nineteenth century, mainly by people from Scotland, followed by the those returning from the Otago gold rushes. The locals are a hardy lot, the population supplemented during the academic year by thousands of students attending Otago University. Because of its southern location, Dunedin is used to challenging weather. Other challenges are simply part of life in Dunedin.
Baldwin Street was never meant to be so steep. But like many of New Zealand’s cities, it was planned in London, with no understanding of the hilly nature and exact gradient of the area. Streets were planned with a flat city in mind. Dunedin is not flat.
Baldwin Street has become a local tourist attraction in Dunedin. Some tourists stand at the bottom of the street and remark that it doesn’t look all that steep, but are wise enough to not venture upwards. Others respond to the challenge, taking either the easiest option and walking up the 270 steps that pass only seven of the fourteen houses, or struggling up the path. Hand rails are provided for support. Signs advise against trying to drive up unless you are one of the streets inhabitants and know how to negotiate the climb.
Two annual events have further helped put Baldwin Street on the world map. One is the Gut Buster, a race for the fittest and the curious, up the street and down again. Over a thousand people take part each summer, with the fastest competitors finishing the race in around two minutes. Apparently coming down is harder than going up.
Less challenging and without the need for prior training, is the annual Cadbury Jaffa Race, part of the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival held in July. Jaffas are small round sweets or lollies, a chocolate centre encased in an outer orange layer. Each jaffa is hand numbered and sponsored, enabling hundreds of thousands to be raised for charity each year. The jaffas are released at the top of the hill and for about fifteen seconds the street is a moving orange mass.
There has been death and near death on the hill as people, mainly university students, attempt crazy ways of travelling down. But for those living in Baldwin Street, life is no different from living anywhere else in Dunedin. The locals can’t understand what all the fuss is about. They’d rather not have the sign ‘Steepest Street in the World’ at the bottom of their hill.
Other New Zealand articles of interest: